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Riding With the Underdogs: Apps Fill a Void Left by Uber and Lyft

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Jaime Naugle, a driver for the ride-sharing app Fasten, with a passenger in Austin, Tex.

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Fasten

AUSTIN, Tex. — When I arrived in Austin this month for the annual South by Southwest festival, I was prepared to time travel to a harsh past: an era when people had to wave their hands on street corners, begging for curmudgeonly cabdrivers to pull over and offer a ride.

This was the picture many expected during the music, film and technology festival because Uber and Lyft, the two most popular car-summoning apps, pulled out of Austin last year after the city voted to tighten regulations on ride-sharing services. With hundreds of thousands of people attending SXSW, this sounded like a recipe for disaster.

Yet the reality — for me and many attendees I spoke with — was that getting around Austin during the festival was easy. Several smaller ride-sharing services were operating in town, such as Fasten and RideAustin. Despite some hiccups with those apps, they worked well over all. And, of course, there were taxicabs hovering if you were lucky enough to get one.

“Setting up a new account with Fasten or RideAustin took all of a minute,” said Sam Grobart, an executive editor for CNN and a former technology reporter for The New York Times, who attended the conference. “I’m as brand loyal to a ride service as I am to a gas station chain — which is to say not at all.”

Many attendees echoed that sentiment, and my experience was the same. During the festival, I heavily relied on car services because my Airbnb house was several miles from the conference. After taking 20 rides divided among Fasten, RideAustin and taxis, only once did I have an issue summoning a car, with Fasten on a rainy Saturday night. That left me to — heaven forbid — open an umbrella and walk a mile to my next meeting.

Issues like mine,…

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